(Reuters) – More than 30 companies – including Johnson & Johnson and 3M Co – are urging the federal judiciary’s rulemaking body to implement a policy meant to cull cases from multidistrict litigations early on.
In a letter sent to the committee on rules of practice and procedure at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, legal officers at 31 companies said they wanted a rule governing management of MDLs to include a directive to have plaintiffs’ counsel demonstrate “basic due diligence into plaintiffs’ claims, such as evidence of exposure to the alleged cause and a resulting injury, early in the case.”
The March 1 letter said that “high volumes of such unexamined and unsupportable claims are allowed to be ‘parked’ for extended periods of time.”
3M executive vice president and chief legal affairs officer Kevin Rhodes is among the signatories on the letter. The company said in a statement that the proposal would “help more efficiently and fairly resolve MDL litigation for claimants with meritorious claims.”
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3M is facing more than 265,000 lawsuits in an MDL over claims its Combat Arms military earplugs were defective and caused hearing loss. The company said it believes the plugs were effective and safe when used properly but is working toward a resolution of the claims via mediation.
Johnson & Johnson, which is facing more than 37,000 lawsuits in an MDL over claims that its talc products caused cancer, did not respond to a request for comment. J&J’s world wide vice president for litigation, Erik Haas, also signed the letter. The company maintains that its products are safe.
The proposal could face some pushback. Ben Whiting, a partner at plaintiffs’ firm Keller Postman said the policy could end up creating a “rather significant level of proof just to have the right to file.”
Legal officers for tobacco giant Altria Group Inc, General Motors Co and Exxon Mobil Corp also signed the letter. The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Last year, the court administration’s subcommittee debating MDL rules developed a sketch rule intended to guide judges overseeing MDLs in the early stages of the process. If the subcommittee agrees to the letter’s proposal, it could become part of that rule.
The subcommittee will meet on March 28, when it could decide to send the proposed rule change on to a larger rules committee. If approved by that committee, it could ask for public comment on the rule later this year.
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